GUEST BLOG: Using Virtual Backpacks to Help Students Explore Their Futures — Andrea Richison, Zanesville City Schools
By: Guest Blogger
As an Ohio school counselor, one of my favorite roles is the promotion of college and career readiness. Currently, I serve a high school population where college and career awareness is on the forefront of many of my students’ minds. However, I previously served a kindergarten through sixth grade population. There was nothing more exciting than watching third- or fourth-graders explore their strengths for the first time and talk about what kinds of schooling could be in their future—whether that be a four-year college or a career-technical program. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m passionate about planting the seeds of career planning in our students. Witnessing a student light up with excitement when she tells you about her plans to be an engineer, a cosmetologist or a physician is one of the reasons I chose my own career as a school counselor.
However, there are always those students who are harder to reach. The ones that you ask, “What are your plans?” and they just look at you and shrug their shoulders. This used to frustrate me to no end. Surely, they must have some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives? But the reality that I have found is that some students have no idea where to start when it comes to college and career planning. That’s when, as a counselor, it’s time to step in and help them explore their interests and what may be a good fit for their skill sets. Last year, as the freshman and sophomore counselor at Zanesville High School, I got the opportunity to use the OhioMeansJobs backpack tool in ninth and 10th grade English classes.
Once my students set up their accounts with OhioMeansJobs, they quickly got started on the first step of building their backpacks, the “career cluster inventory.” Students indicated how well they enjoyed certain activities, such as fishing and drawing. At first, there were some complaints about the number of questions, but after a while, the once bustling room was hushed except for the sound of clicking from their computers. It was interesting to watch students’ faces as they read over activities and decided their levels of interests. And, as they began to finish their inventories, they started chattering about the “career clusters” that showed up on top of their lists.
A large number of students in one ninth grade English class received “Agricultural and Environmental Systems” as their top cluster. The term agriculture was new to some students. When one student asked questions, I directed him to click on the cluster. The nice thing about the inventory is that each cluster contains a hyperlink to different explanations and occupations within that category. In this case, when the student clicked on the agriculture cluster, it pulled up the field of “mining, oil, and gas.” The student was actually very familiar with oil work because many of the parents in our school are employed by the oil industry. The student was introduced to new vocabulary and able to make a real-life connection to the career cluster.
For me, the backpack is refreshing because of the interactive, real-life application that students have the opportunity to explore. What’s even more convenient is the ability to save their results to refer back to and further engage in activities. In the span of one class period, we were only really able to fully explore the career cluster tool. However, once this result is saved, a student can log in to the account and complete other activities that stem from the cluster of interest. For example, a student can later go back and see the saved top career cluster and then pick a career to build a career plan from.
The backpack is an excellent tool for a student who needs a starting point. While it’s exciting when a freshman already has a career path in mind, it’s not always a reality. Also, even those who do have plans may discover career clusters that are better in line with their interests and strengths. While the backpack may not lead to a concrete career choice, it gets the wheels turning and allows students to have hands-on experience with career assessments, which are valuable for both the counselor and the student to spark conversations for future college and career planning. I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet with the backpack tool because there are so many different aspects to explore. But, I’m excited to keep learning and hope to spark my passion for college and career planning in my students.
Andrea Richison is a high school counselor for Zanesville City Schools. Currently she works with grades 9-12 as a student success counselor.